After a soft-release R&B "compilation" album—the main difference between it and a "real album" is that it wasn't heavily promoted nor were its numbers released by Billboard—Bieber took a few PR hits (probably—I've mostly tuned them out, but I think there was something to do with South American hookers?) before roaring back on the surprisingly solid Skrillex/Diplo collab "Where Are U Now." The song was a major success, due in large part to its producer's prescience. With OMI's "Cheerleader," Major Lazer and DJ Snake's "Lean On," and last year's Robin Schulz/Mr. Probz hit "Waves," the most popular EDM has turned down. For what? For a more casual style often called Tropical House, derived in part from Northern European producers like Kygo (whose remix of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" is now getting play in the States) and Matoma, who's been releasing tropical versions of hip-hop classics to considerable success overseas.
It's easy to see Bieber's "What Do You Mean" as a laconic cut in this mold, an understated record that could help Bieber slyly sidestep the uphill comeback narrative he'd been forced into. Co-written by his frequent collaborator Poo Bear, the record is about romantic confusion, a feeling at once authentic to Bieber—it's not hard to imagine him seeming befuddled in general—yet dissociated from his likely lived experience of romance. Despite this contradiction, it's a strong record, likely his best since 2012's "As Long As You Love Me."